Florida’s latest mass shooting occurred 54 hours before polls close in a primary election in which the Democratic gubernatorial candidates have called for tighter gun restrictions while Republicans advocated for greater Second Amendment rights.
But given the dynamics of the year-old campaign, one analyst doesn’t expect the shooting in Jacksonville that left three dead to dramatically alter the outcome of Tuesday’s gubernatorial primaries.
The five Democrats on the campaign trail, in one way or another, have repeatedly said that 20 years of one-party rule in Tallahassee have left Florida in a “desperate” state.
Sunday night, Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham, Jeff Greene, Chris King and Philip Levine all attributed the deaths in Jacksonville to inaction in Tallahassee.
Gillum, Graham and Levine called for new leaders at the Statehouse, while King and Greene vowed to stand up to the NRA and to keep fighting for gun control.
Their Republican counterparts were much more subdued in their reaction, however. GOP gubernatorial frontrunner Rep. Ron DeSantis tweeted: “Thanks to the first responders from @JSOPIO for heading into a terrible situation at the Jacksonville Landing. Thanks also to @FLGovScott for providing state resources.”
His primary opponent Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam tweeted Sunday afternoon that he was canceling a Monday campaign event in Jacksonville and expressed sympathy for the victims.
“Our prayers continue to be with the victims and their families. Please cooperate with local law enforcement and do not hesitate to be helpful in your community any way you can,” Putnam said on Twitter Sunday afternoon.
Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said three people are dead, including the 24-year-old gunman, who reportedly took his own life. Another 11 people are believed to have been injured at the shooting, which occurred at Jacksonville Landing, the site of a major video game tournament. Jacksonville Landing is a collection of restaurants and shops along the St. Johns River.
Democrats running for governor quickly pointed out that Sunday’s shooting followed the Parkland massacre in February, the Fort Lauderdale airport killings in 2017 and the Pulse Nightclub shooting of 2016.
The four who died Sunday increased the body count to 75 Floridians killed in mass shootings in 26 months.
“No more. These are our kids. Our friends. Our neighbors,” said Greene.
“I’m tired of hearing ‘when is enough going to be enough?’ I am tired of hearing ‘thoughts and prayers’ from those who do nothing,” said Graham.
“We need to end these mass shootings – and the only way to do that is to vote out the politicians complicit in this cycle of death,” tweeted Graham, who has pledged to ban assault weapons with an executive order. The suspect is a Baltimore resident and used a handgun, authorities said.
The Florida Legislature toughened gun regulations in the wake of the February shooting at a Parkland high school. After the biggest protest rallies the capital city had seen in recent memory, lawmakers raised the minimum age to buy a gun, created a three-day waiting period for gun purchases and banned bump stocks.
Gun control advocates said they accepted those changes as the most they could get and said they would return in 2019, after a new governor and Legislature is elected and seek tougher laws.
“As long as we let this absurd status quo continue, in which the gun lobby controls our elected officials, this bloodshed will continue,” said Gillum. “I will lift the victims’ families up in prayer tonight and as our next governor, I will do everything in my power to finally pass the common-sense gun safety laws that we so badly need in the Sunshine State.”
Recent polls put Graham, Levine and Gillum on top in the Democratic primary with more than 10 percent of voters undecided. Republicans have held the governor’s mansion for 20 years and both Putnam and DeSantis have mostly avoided talking about gun control on the campaign trail.
“I am horrified and I am furious. Those shootings are too many to count,” said Levine. “Too many lives are destroyed, while leaders take no action. It’s time for new leaders.”
The Jacksonville shooting, say communications and polling experts, is not expected to have an impact on Tuesday’s primary election. More than a million and half voters have already cast ballots. Also, it takes time for events to permeate into the public consciousness and influence people, said Jay Rayburn, director of the Communications Research Center at the Florida State University.
“And the other thing that you must think about is the Democratic candidates all are for some kind of gun control, some more stringent than others. So, when the undecideds start to move, on this issue, they break across the four candidates,” said Rayburn. “It doesn’t make any difference with the Republican candidates; neither one is for much gun control. Both are Second Amendment people saying the same thing.”
Rayburn concedes his analysis would be different if this were November when there will be significant differences in the two major party candidates’ position on gun regulations.
“Then if there were still undecideds 48 hours before the polls opened, then that may push them over to the gun control candidate,” said Rayburn. “But not right now.”
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